How safe are our sports persons?

The year 2013 was looking like a good one for Phiona Katiti. A student of Sports Science and a regular player for the Makerere University female football team (She-MAK), the dream of every female footballer in Uganda had become her reality when she began playing for the She-Cranes. Then one day in September, on the football pitch, that dream came crushing down. “We were playing the inter-hall games, and the ball was so high yet I wanted to score,” she remembers. “We desperately needed that goal, so I jumped and collided with the goalkeeper. She hit my jaw with her elbow, dislocating it and when I fell, I landed on the same jaw.”
The memory is painful. And as she talks, she is absently rubbing her jaw as if soothing away the remembered pain. No one on the pitch was able or knew how to provide first-aid to a hanging jaw. “The university hospital referred me to Mulago hospital. I had to wait in-line, my mouth wide open, for more than an hour before my tutor could find someone to wire the jaws together.”
Katiti’s dreams of pursuing a career in football could have ended on the pitch that day if it hadn’t been for the quick action of her tutor in the Sports Science Department. And after being discharged she had to depend on friends to fund her treatment.

Need for proper personnel
According to Bernadette Nakabazzi, an assistant lecturer in the Sports Science Department of Makerere University, there is a critical need for teams to have sports physiotherapists in a supporting role. “Injured players are referred to hospital physiotherapists who do not have a working knowledge of the ligaments and muscles that are crucial to the player’s careers,” she says. “Inaccurate prognoses will, in the long run, kill the career of any sportsman or woman. For instance, we have athletes who continue in their careers with long-term hamstring injuries, which damage the ligaments.”
She-MAK does not have a resident physician, and according to Katiti, if the coach has some medical knowledge, he may offer first-aid to an injured player. Dr Vincent Karuhanga, who has worked as a physician for many teams, both in contact and non-contact sports, laments medical personnel on these teams. “Many ‘team doctors’ are not doctors,” he says. “Anyone with a can of DeepHeat and Diclophenac can be hired, yet most injuries require immediate application of ice before anything else is applied.”

Gear and facilities
In sports manuals, provisions are made for proper sports gear and pitch worthiness but Nakabazzi believes that there is a general lack of concern for player safety. “Look at Nakivubo Stadium. Much of the activity going on there is not even related to sports. On any given day, you will find the pitch littered with bottle shards.”
In the various versions of the boxing sport, it is mandatory for professional players to wear protective gear, but according to Dr Karuhanga, they are compelled to share with colleagues who do not have. “Boxers share mouth guards, shin guards, jerseys and groin protectors. This brings in the risk of contagious diseases.” This necessary gear is often provided at the player’s expense, not the team.
Many of the pitches Katiti has played on are not levelled. “Once, we shared the pitch with the cricket team. Besides being congested, we had to be on the look-out for the cricket ball, and at the same time run carefully to avoid the holes on the field.”
Nutrition is of great importance in the health and safety of sportsmen and women, yet it is largely ignored. Female athletes are under pressure not to put on weight and to take measures to miss their periods so that they can participate in events. And the solution? They forego meals, leading to eating disorders and weak bones, and yet when they are out of training they binge on every kind of food. “Sports burns up energy, if you don’t eat how can you burn what you don’t have?” wonders Dr. Karuhanga. “Water is essential to any team, but there are teams which offer players soda during half time. Some even offer beer.”
But in all this, who is to blame for the neglect of player safety. Both Nakabazzi and Dr Karuhanga blame ignorance and inadequate funds. “Before the training session teams have to give general examinations for silent problems like heart diseases which can flare up during the game,” says Benadette. “But I have never heard of a Ugandan team doing this. If they want really good players they need to invest in physicians, physiotherapists, nutritionists and professional trainers.”
Dr Karuhanga adds that in the boxing sport, pugilists are not tested for HIV or Hepatitis B before stepping into the arena and yet they bleed during the game. “Technically, a player with a head injury must be given time to recuperate, especially those who suffer TKOs.”

Not enough time to heal
The Sportsmen and women are not entirely innocent, either, mainly because they are not sensitised about the dangerous effects of untended injuries. Katiti is back on the pitch but she has had a knee injury for the last six months. Relaxing to recuperate has never been an option because she loves the game. “Coach always asks if I can play and I tell him I can because the injury is not serious and the pain is manageable. She insists that many football players have injuries but they keep silent about them. “If you report an injury on the national team you are immediately dropped, without treatment, and another player is selected.”
Being on the national team is a dream come true for many, so they suffer silently with their injuries and depend on pain killers for relief. And for Dr Karuhanga, this is where the danger lies. “Many sportsmen have been brought to my practice suffering from perforated and bleeding ulcers caused by chronic abuse of pain killers. Players should know that physiotherapy sessions take time and if they want to last longer in their careers, and then should take the time to properly recuperate.”
All the above, however, are the ideal and not the reality. The sports fraternity has raised concerns about the different areas that need improving but don’t because of inadequate funds. This is another area that falls under that category nit shouldn’t since it has health implications.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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